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The Waterman’s Arms – Isle of Dogs

For this week’s post, it is 1986, and I am standing outside the Cutty Sark pub in Greenwich, looking across the River Thames to the south eastern tip of the Isle of Dogs. The photo below shows the view which includes the spire of Christ Church, on the corner of Manchester Road and Glenaffric Avenue, the Newcastle Draw Dock leading down into the river, and to the left, a pub, the Waterman’s Arms.

Waterman's Arms

The same view today:

Waterman's Arms

Although the weather was the same for the “now” photo, the tide state was different which does change the views, however the Newcastle Draw Dock is still there today, just below the water.

Apart from the spire, Christ Church is still hidden by trees. Housing on the right is the same, however a large new build of apartments has been built on the left of the dry dock which completely obscures the Waterman’s Arms and the towers of the City, which in 1986 consisted only of the Nat West Tower.

The Waterman’s Arms was originally the Newcastle Arms, built as part of the Cubitt Town development. It seems to have opened in 1853, and that year is the first that I can find any written references to the pub, with two contrasting newspaper mentions.

In the Morning Advertiser on the 30th April 1853 there was an advert for a Servant, Potman and Waiter – possibly the first staff for the newly opened pub. In October 1853, the Kentish Mercury had a very different report on the pub, where George Henry Wood, the step son of Mr Harris, the landlord of the Newcastle Arms, was charged with stealing a horse, the property of Mr Brooker, a grazier of Poplar.

Apart from these mentions, there seems to have been very little reported about the Newcastle Arms, apart from the occasional advert for staff, and reference to the adjoining dry dock. most often related to criminal activity.

The most significant period in the pub’s history were a couple of years in the 1960s when the pub changed name to the Waterman’s Arms and became an East London centre for pub entertainment, attracting many national and internationally famous celebrities. I will cover this phase later in the post.

In 2011 the pub changed name to the Great Eastern and became a pub on the ground floor and backpackers hostel on the upper floors, and it was this version of the pub that I photographed when I was in the area last year.

Waterman's Arms

The adjacent Newcastle Draw Dock, photographed at low tide and looking across the river to the Cutty Sark pub.

Waterman's Arms

The reason why the Waterman’s Arms has a rather unusual history compared to other Isle of Dogs pubs is down to a brief period between 1962 and 1964 when the pub was run by Daniel Farson.

Daniel Farson was an interesting character. Born in 1927, he was the son of Negley Farson, an author and American foreign correspondent. After National Service in the American Army Air Corps (he had dual US / UK citizanship – he would later renounce US citizanship), he went to Cambridge University, then took a post as photographer with the Picture Post.

He had a variety of jobs in journalism and also the Merchant Navy, before joining Associated Rediffusion, one of the early independent television companies.

During his time at Associated Rediffusion, Farson proposed a TV programme on the boom in pub entertainment. This he saw as a continuation of the Music Hall tradition which was one of his interests. The proposed programme was to be called “Time Gentlemen Please!” and to help with research he visited a number of East London pubs. It was during this research that he found the Newcastle Arms. The pub was described as being “down on the floor” and the “pub with no beer”. The pub attracted very little trade and the brewery refused any credit for the purchase of beer.

Farson was also interested in the area of East London along the river, and had been living at 92 Narrow Street in Limehouse so was relatively close to the Newcastle Arms, although he admits to knowing very little about the Isle of Dogs, and his view of the location of the Newcastle Arms would have been very different if he had approached the pub from inland, rather than from the river.

Despite all the warning signs, he purchased the pub in 1962 using money left to him by his parents, and set about converting the pub to accommodate space for an enlarged stage area. He would use this to put on pub entertainment, based on Musical Hall traditions and building on the entertainment to be found in many East London pubs, although he attracted stars that would not normally be found in a pub at the tip of the Isle of Dogs, or a usual East End crowd.

Farson also changed the name of the pub from the Newcastle Arms to the Waterman’s Arms, a name he felt better suited the pub’s riverside location.

Farson’s proposed programme “Time, Gentlemen Please!” was shown at 9:45 on the evening of the 5th December 1962, and part was filmed in the Waterman’s Arms. The Daily Mirror description of the programme was:

“ITV commentator Dan Farson, who recently became landlord of a pub in London’s East End. takes a look at pub-land entertainment in tonight’s ‘Time, Gentlemen Please!’. 

Says Farson: ‘If the spirit of music-hall lives anywhere today, you’ll find it in the East End pubs.’ Many pub owners say that entertainment is a good boost for business.

So Farson and director Rollo Gamble visited four public-houses to film some of the professional and semi-professional acts that appear there.

One of the pubs was Farson’s own, the Waterman’s Arms, near the docks at the Isle of Dogs.

Most of the pub entertainers are singers, who present modern pub tunes along with the old music hall hits. One artist is 80 year-old Ida Barr, a star of the Edwardian music hall.

Others in the programme rejoice in such names as Tommy Pudding, Sulky Gowers, Welsh George, Queenie Watts and Tex, who wears a cowboy hat.

Says Gamble; ‘Though some of the performers are unknowns, there’s a lot of talent there. Some of these people live by touring the pubs, others entertain in the evening after a hard day’s work.”

Ida Barr, one of the original stars of the Edwardian music hall was a popular performer at the Waterman’s Arms, and she was still very active, including performing at London’s last remaining music hall, the Metropolitan Theatre in Edgware Road. She sang at the last performance at “The Met” on the 14th April 1963 before its demolition later that year as part of the road widening scheme for the Edgware Road.

As well as the Waterman’s Arms, the other pubs that featured in the programme were the Lansdown Arms, part of the old Collins Music Hall at Islington Green, the Rising Sun in Bethnal Green, and the King’s Arms in the Old Kent Road.

The entertainment put on by Farson in the Waterman’s Arm consisted of both local amateur and professional acts, old-time music hall stars, as well as those that you would not expect to see in a Victorian pub on the Isle of Dogs such as Shirley Bassey.

The audience at the Waterman’s Arms attracted not just the locals, but also those from the West End, and a global set of celebrities from the early 1960s. Names such as Lord Delfont, George Melly, Groucho Marx, Lionel Bart, Trevor Howard, Tony Bennett, Mary Quant, Norman Hartnell, Judy Garland and Clint Eastwood (who wrote the word ‘rowdy’ in the guest book).

Daniel Farson also discovered local talent who went on the perform at the Waterman’s Arms. One of these was Kim Cordell who Farson saw performing at the Rising Sun in Mile End Road and who was described in The Stage as: “In the booming world of pub entertainment, one personality is causing more and more comment. This is Kim Cordell, first seen in Dan Farson’s TV pub show Time, Gentlemen Please! and now the compere/singer of his pub on the Isle of Dogs, the Waterman’s Arms. Kim herself says: ‘Without a doubt, this has been the best year of my life. I seem to have found a real incentive for the first time’. Apart from her success at The Waterman’s, the year has included appearances on TV; two films, one called ‘Songs of London’ for the British Tourist and Travel Association, the other ‘London After Dark’, not yet released; and the lion’s share in a forthcoming L.P. ‘A Night At The Waterman’s'”.

Kim Cordell performing at the Waterman’s Arms:

Waterman's Arms

The Waterman’s Arms was a success in terms of the number of people arriving to watch the entertainment, the number of stars attracted to perform, and those who came to the Waterman’s Arms to be in the crowd, but it could not last.

In 1964 Farson received a call from his bank manager to tell him that he was £3,000 overdrawn.

The financial challenges were down to how much was being sold to fund the costs of running the pub. People would not arrive until 8pm, from then on the bar was crowded. Crowding meant that people could not easily get to the bar, so drink sales were limited.  For many there was more interest in the entertainment rather than a long evening’s drinking. They would watch the entertainment than move on. The costs of putting on entertainment were also high, particularly for the more famous acts.

He could not go on, and after a battle with the brewery, a new tenant was found, Daniel Farson sold up and left the Waterman’s Arms and Narrow Street and moved down to north Devon to start a career as an author.

One of the books that came out of this move was Limehouse Days. A record of his time in Limehouse and at the Waterman’s Arms. The front cover of the book shows Daniel Farson behind the bar at the Waterman’s Arms, talking to customers.

Waterman's Arms

The book does have some strange diversions, such as a chapter where Farson claims to identify Jack the Ripper, however the book, and the photos taken by Farson provide an intriguing view of life in East London in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Daniel Farson was also part of Soho in the 1950s and early 1960s (and continued to visit after his move to Devon). He photographed and wrote about Soho in another book Soho in the Fifties, although due to his level of drinking there was always some doubt as to the details of the stories Farson would recall and tell.

His obituary by Philip Hoare in the Independent started with the paragraph “Mythomaniacal, egotistical, and often unable to tell the truth or the difference between it and fiction, the character of Daniel Farson – photographer, writer, and drunk – is redeemed by at least one grace: that of self-awareness: “One of the more bizarre aspects of my life is the way it has veered from triumph to disaster without my seeming to notice the change.”

He was also frequently mentioned in the obituaries and memoirs of others who found the pubs, bars and clubs of Soho as a second home. For example the following is from the obituary of the journalist and author Sandy Fawkes: “One close friend for 30 years was Daniel Farson, the television journalist, chronicler of Soho and spectacular drunk. He would suddenly turn from an intelligent conversationalist into a growling monster. “I loathe you,” he would shout suddenly between fat, quivering cheeks. Sandy Fawkes would go to stay with him in Devon, where he enjoyed comparative calm, though barred from local pubs.”

It was also in Soho that Farson met people such as the artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, who would also go on to visit the Waterman’s Arms.

The Waterman’s Arms and Daniel Farson tell of a very different time. Soho has since lost so much of its character, and East London pubs have been disappearing rapidly over the last few decades.

The Waterman’s Arms is part of a listed group around the Newcastle Draw Dock, which also includes Glenaffric Avenue, Christ Church and Christ Church Vicarage, Manchester Road.

The future of the pub as the Great Eastern looked in doubt, running as a pub on the ground floor and backpacker hostel on the upper floors. The pub has a good location, close to the river and the Newcastle Draw Dock, so could easily have fallen to the fate of so many other London pubs, and been converted into apartments. The good news is that a very recent story in the Docklands and East London Advertiser reports that starting this month, the pub will get a £600,000 refurbishment,. The name of the pub will also be changed from the Great Eastern back to the Waterman’s Arms.

So although not visible from Greenwich as it was in 1986, hopefully the Waterman’s Arms will have a good future.

For a glimpse of the Waterman’s Arms when owned by Daniel Farson, the 1964 film London in the Raw by Arnold Louis Miller includes a sequence filmed in the Waterman’s Arms. The film is available from the British Film Institute.

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A Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The photos from Hungerford Bridge for last Sunday’s post were part of a walk over the New Year from Tower Bridge to Westminster. I sometimes think that at this time of the year, London looks better after dark than during the short, grey days when a low sun and cloud cover conspire to subdue the city. Having said that, a sunny winter’s day brings out all that is best in the city.

I also take plenty of photos, because the city keeps changing, and because I just find all aspects of the city fascinating. For a mid-week post, here is a selection showing just how good the city looks when the grey sky is hidden by the dark of night, and the lights are on across London.

I started on the south bank of the river, looking back at Tower Bridge:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

And across to the Tower of London:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The ever growing number of office towers in the City:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

London seems to have hit peak Christmas Market, and now wooden sheds selling vaguely Christmas related products can be found anywhere across the city where high footfall and  tourists are likely to congregate. Along the south bank, they start near Tower Bridge and can then be found dotted along the route to the London Eye.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Hay’s Galleria, the old Hay’s Wharf with more Christmas market themed shops.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Themed sculpture trails have been a trend of the last few years, and this year London Bridge City (another trend whereby areas of the City are given brand names to promote a sense of identity, usually by the corporations who own large areas of the city) are hosting a sculpture trail where twelve of Raymond Briggs Snowman characters have been individually decorated to represent the twelve days of Christmas.

The is “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” by Jodie Silverman:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Crossing London Bridge, it was down into Borough Market. Very quiet at this time of the evening, with the majority of stalls packing up, although hot mulled wine was still available.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Brightly lit interiors contrast with the dark of the exterior arches.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Borough Market:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Taking a photo of someone else taking a photo – Monmouth Coffee in Stoney Street by Borough Market:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Pubs always look very welcoming at this time of year – the Market Porter on the corner of Stoney Street and Park Street:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The Anchor, Bankside:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Many of London’s bridges are now part of the Illuminated River project where the intention is to light up each bridge with a unique lighting scheme from the Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge. Many of the inner City bridges have been completed and the aim is to complete the rest during 2020.

This is Southwark Bridge:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

A good place to view the project is where multiple bridges can be seen at the same time. The following photo is looking back at Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street Railway Bridge and London Bridge.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The Illuminated River project will be in place for 10 years, after which the lighting and associated running and maintenance costs will be transferred to the bridge owners.

The changing light schemes across multiple bridges does focus the attention on the river rather than the surrounding buildings which is good.

A short distance along are the buildings that are part of the Globe Theatre complex on the corner of Bankside and New Globe Walk. Very different to the Emerson Wharf building that once stood on the site.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Entrance to Blackfriars Station on the south bank of the river:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Passing Blackfriars Bridge and this is the view looking over to the north bank of the river:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The three cranes are part of the construction site for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which will also be one of the intercept points between the existing sewage system and the new tunnel.

On the right is the Unilever Building. The illuminated building in the centre is the old City of London School.

Further along we come to the South Bank complex, and here is a good point to look back towards the lights of the City, framed by the Oxo Tower on the right and St Paul’s Cathedral on the left.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Fast food on the South Bank:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

South Bank walking:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The night and lighting softens the architecture of the buildings along the South Bank. This is the National Theatre:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Evening book browsing and selling under Waterloo Bridge:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The South Bank has many restaurants, and during the Christmas period, these dining pods are a colourful addition:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Opposite is the under croft of the Queen Elizabeth hall which from 1973 has been used for skateboarding:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Threatened with closure in 2013 / 2014, the space has been saved and refurbished and continues to offer a long term space for skateboarding on the South Bank.

Possibly a bit optimistic for mid -winter is this ice cream van:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Illuminations between the Royal Festival Hall and the river:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

From here, I crossed over the river to take the photos from the Golden Jubilee Bridge for last week’s post, then continued up to just north of Trafalgar Square, where the London Coliseum looks impressive after dark:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Seven St Martin’s Place is between the church of St Martin in the Fields and William IV Street and faces the Edith Cavell Memorial. Back in July i wrote a post about the building which at the  time was undergoing conversion to a hotel.

That conversion now appears to be complete and the hotel open.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

One of the reasons for my interest in the building was the future of the sculptured panels on the facade of the building facing St Martin’s Place. These panels were the work of Hubert Dalwood, a sculptor in the Modern British movement.

The conversion looks complete and I am really pleased that the panels are in their original position, and look to continue to decorate the building in its new function.

Whilst much of the West End was relatively quiet, Leicester Square was busy, with the central square being occupied with another Christmas Market (further confirming that London must by now have reached peak Christmas market).

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Brightly lit market stall in Leicester Square:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

The surroundings of Leicester Square were full, and the area continues as a centre for the brands that attract the tourist trade.

In the following photo, a reminder of the old Swiss Centre is in the centre, with the M&M store on the right.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Directly opposite is the Lego Store, and whilst walking between the two stores you can still get your portrait drawn.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Trying to avoid the crowds, I headed down Waterloo Place, across the Mall, then into Horse Guards Road, and there was not a person in sight.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Apart from a single walker, I did not see anyone whilst walking the full length of Horse Guards Road between the Mall and Birdcage Walk.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

An empty Horse Guards Road:

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

Westminster was the destination of the walk from Tower Bridge and here Westminster Abbey was looking impressive against a dark sky. Again, the area was deserted apart from a couple of people looking in the window of the closed visitor centre.

Winter Walk from Tower Bridge to Westminster

And then it was back to Westminster Underground Station. Although this was a walk along what could be described as the tourist focused areas of the city, it is always a pleasure to walk alongside the river, and it is fascinating to see how London is evolving.

Also, London does look really good after dark.

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The View from Hungerford Bridge – 1985 and 2020

I usually try to get in a couple of evening walks in that quiet period just after Christmas and before the main return to work at the start of January. This year, part of one of these walks crossed the River Thames using the Golden Jubilee walkways alongside Hungerford Bridge. I wanted to photograph the same scenes as 35 years ago in 1985, and to have a look at what has changed. Although the formal name of the crossing is the Golden Jubilee Bridge, I have called the post the view from Hungerford Bridge, as this was the original 1985 walkway and seems to be the most used name for the crossing.

This was the view in 1985, looking south across the river towards the Royal Festival Hall.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view 35 years later:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The viewpoint is slightly different, as seen by the different location of the tall office block on the left, however the area around the Royal Festival Hall is still an illuminated focal point on the South Bank.

The 1985 photo does include a feature that was a focal point of the South Bank. To the left of the Royal Festival Hall was a tall, illuminated lattice structure. The coloured lights were continuously changing.

I was working on the South Bank for much of the 1980s, and these ever changing lights were always in the background when working or walking in the area after dark. I moved abroad for a few years at the end of the decade, and cannot remember when these lights disappeared. It is these subtle changes that are so easy to miss.

The following photo shows a detailed section from the original 1985 photo, which includes the lights, and also another unique feature from the 1980s.

View from Hungerford Bridge

In a previous post on London postcards, I included one of a large birthday cake created by the Greater London Council on the South Bank as an exhibition and celebration of 95 years of the London County Council / Greater London Council. I had visited the exhibition within the cake, and taken photos, but had not yet scanned the negatives. In scanning negatives I finally found some which included the GLC cake.

This can be seen in the 1985 photo above, and also in the extract, which does give an indication of the size of the cake, and how incongruous a traditionally decorated birthday cake looked against the concrete architecture of the South Bank.

The following photo is from the original postcard which shows the cake close up.

View from Hungerford Bridge

There was also some event advertising along the front of the Royal Festival Hall. The following is an extract from the 1985 photo which shows this advertising along the front of the building.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The red banner requests “Keep GLC Working for the Arts in London”. The mid 1980s was a time of conflict between the Thatcher led Conservative Government and the Labour majority Greater London Council led by Ken Livingstone.

This resulted in the 1985 Local Government Act which dissolved the GLC in 1986. Campaigns by the GLC could not influence the majority of the Conservative Government, and at the time there were serious concerns about future funding of South Bank complex. Probably one of the reasons why now the majority of the exterior ground level of the Royal Festival Hall is occupied by commercial businesses.

In the centre of the hall, there is a banner advertising that “EROS: Back in Town at the Royal Festival Hall”. I had completely forgotten about this, but in the 1980s the statue on the top of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain in Piccadilly Circus (so I assume technically correct to state Eros, which is frequently applied to the whole fountain), had been removed for restoration.

Prior to the return of the statue to Piccadilly Circus in 1985, it was displayed for a short period in the Royal Festival Hall.

The banner on the right advertises the “Mars London Marathon Exhibition” in advance of the marathon which took place in April of that year. Perhaps strange now that a health focused event would be sponsored by a brand such as Mars, but at the time (and for many years previously), the energy giving benefits of glucose were a major advertising feature of Mars bars.

The following 1985 photo again shows the GLC cake, and also the Festival Pier.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view from a slightly different angle, as to the right, the Kings Reach Tower office block now appears from behind the square office block of what was London Weekend Television.

View from Hungerford Bridge

A similar view in 2020 is shown in the photo below. The Kings Reach Tower building is now much taller having had several floors added during conversion of the block from offices to apartments.  The future of the old London Weekend Television building (known after the closure of London Weekend Television as the London Studios and operated by ITV) is not clear. ITV moved out of the complex a few years ago, originally intending to return to refurbished studios, but they now uses studios at the redeveloped BBC Television Centre site in White City. I am sure that this high value location on the South Bank will become yet more expensive apartments.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The following 1985 photo is looking along the river towards Waterloo Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London.

View from Hungerford Bridge

In the above photo, the cathedral stands clear, as does the old Nat West Tower to the right. This building, now called Tower 42, was the tallest building in the City.

The same view today is shown in the following photo. The Nat West Tower is now dwarfed and almost lost by the City developments of the last few decades.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The following 1985 view is of the north bank of the river from the Hungerford Bridge walkway. The brightly lit building is the wonderful 1931, Grade II listed, Shell-Mex House, occupied at the time by Shell UK.  The building is now known as 80 Strand. To the left is the Adelphi building, and the Savoy on the right.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view today, although a bit later in the evening so a somewhat darker sky. The front of the Shell-Mex building is covered in sheeting as part of an ongoing refurbishment.

View from Hungerford Bridge

Walking along the walkway towards the north bank, and this was the 1985 view from Hungerford Bridge looking towards the Embankment.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The same view in 2020:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The Embankment is much the same, however the main change is the scale of the Embankment Pier. This is a relatively small feature in the 1985 photo, which has since been replaced by a much larger pier by the 2020 photo. This is indicative of the considerable growth in passenger transport along the Thames in the 35 years since 1985, when river piers were mainly used for tourist focused cruises of the river. The opening of the Thames Clipper Service in 1999 has contributed significantly to passenger traffic on the river, with the resulting upgrades and additions of river piers to support this traffic.

The main change between 1985 and 2020 has been the bridge across the river from which the photos were taken.

In 1985 there was only a single walkway on the side of the bridge looking towards the City. It was a narrow walkway, frequently covered in large puddles of water, and from experience, not somewhere that you would really want to walk across late at night.

The following photo shows the original walkway:

View from Hungerford Bridge

Today, there is a walkway on either side of Hungerford Bridge. Officially named the Golden Jubilee Bridge, these new walkways were completed in 2002 and provide a considerably improved walking route between the north and south banks of the River Thames.

With the growth of attractions and events along the South Bank, the number of people walking across the bridges has grown considerably. According to the website of the architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, who with engineering company WSP, won the competition for the bridges, they are the busiest walking routes across the river in London, with 8.4 million pedestrians in 2014.

The following photo is the view south along the walkway, towards the Royal Festival Hall.

View from Hungerford Bridge

A view during the day of the Golden Jubilee bridge:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The architects state that the bridges “are slung from inclined pylons that pay homage to similar structures created for the 1951 Festival of Britain, held on the adjoining South Bank”.

As evidence of this, the following photo was taken by my father from the southern end of Hungerford bridge, just after the Festival of Britain had closed, and shows the structures referenced by the architects.

View from Hungerford Bridge

The view looking north along the walkway towards the illuminated buildings above Charing Cross Station.

View from Hungerford Bridge

One final photo before I headed off north of the river – the Embankment from the walkway looking unusually quiet:

View from Hungerford Bridge

The Golden Jubilee Bridge is a considerable improvement over the previous walkway and provides a wonderful location to look at a spectacular view of the river, north and south banks, and the City, whether by day or night. The second walkway on the other side of Hungerford Bridge provides superb views towards Westminster.

The opening up of a walking route from the South Bank through Bankside and to Tower Bridge and beyond, along with attractions such as the London Eye and growth in the numbers of bars and restaurants has significantly increased walking across the river, along with the always present use of the bridge as a route between the north bank of the river and Waterloo Station.

Use of the river has grown since 1985 as evidenced by the considerably enlarged Embankment Pier.

In another 35 years time, the Royal Festival Hall will be just over 100 years old – it will be interesting to see how the area changes in the coming decades. One change I suspect will happen is the growth of tower blocks on the south bank beyond Waterloo Bridge and across the City. The area around the old London Weekend Television tower block and the London Studios will certainly look very different.

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Wapping Old Stairs

I have touched very briefly on Wapping Old Stairs in a previous post, when I went for a walk along Wapping High Street and Wapping Wall. I am returning to the stairs as when working through the photos my father had taken on a boat trip along the Thames in August 1948, I found one of Wapping Old Stairs and the adjacent Oliver’s Wharf.

Wapping Old Stairs

I tried to take a photo of the same view when out on the river a couple of months ago, but failed completely to get as good a photo as the one above.

The following photo is the area today. Oliver’s Wharf is the building on the right, the stairs are to the left of Oliver’s Wharf.Wapping Old Stairs

What I love about these photos is that they frequently show people, often children, on the stairs (for example, see the post on Emerson Stairs), and this includes the photo of Wapping Old Stairs, see the following enlargement from the original which shows two children at the bottom of the stairs.

Wapping Old Stairs

Wapping Old Stairs are – old. There is the possibility that stairs at this location date back to the 16th century or earlier. The first newspaper reference I can find is from the 12th August 1736 when “The Body of a young Man well dressed, with a Watch and a Sum of Money in his Pockets, was taken up floating at Wapping Old Stairs: Upon fetching him he appeared to be an Apprentice belonging to Mr. Stilton, a Currier in Bermondsey-street; but by what Means he came drowned is very uncertain.”

This report confirms that in 1736 they were called the “Old” stairs. This part of the name was used to separate these stairs from another set of stairs built slightly to the east along the river, which were called Wapping New Stairs (these can also be found today).

The following extract from the 1896 Ordnance Survey Map shows Oliver’s Wharf and Wapping New Stairs to the left of the map, just before the Wapping Entrance to Wapping Basin of the London Docks. Towards the right of the map are Wapping New Stairs, just by Old Aberdeen Wharf.

Wapping Old Stairs

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

So presumably Wapping Old Stairs were the original stairs, and Wapping New Stairs came latter, with the old and new being added to uniquely identify the stairs. This method of identifying stairs can be found in the names of a number of Thames stairs, for example I have already written about Horselydown Old and New Stairs.

Despite being called “New”, Wapping New Stairs are also old, and I found a newspaper reference to them a couple of years before that for Wapping Old Stairs, when, from the 28th December 1728:

“On Monday, between one and two in the Morning, a Fire was discovered at the Waterman’s Arms Ale-House near Wapping New Stairs, and by timely assistance was quenched, having only burnt some Apparel and a Chest, on which the Servant Maid of the House had stuck a Candle, but had fallen asleep and left it burning.”

The number of fires in the timber buildings along the river was considerable, and a regular occurrence. In the same newspaper was another report of a fire at the nearby Gun Dock:

“Yesterday Morning early, a Fire broke out at a Hatter’s near Gun Dock in Wapping, which in a short space consumed the same, and three other Houses adjoining to it: In one of the Houses a Man and three Women went upstairs to save some Goods, but were prevented by the Flames from getting down again: one was saved by escaping over the Tops of some Houses, and the three Women flung themselves out of a Window into the street but one of them (a Servant Maid) pitched on her Head and died on the Spot.”

Both stairs therefore date from at least the early 18th century, with Wapping Old Stairs almost certainly being of a much earlier date.

Both stairs also feature on the 1746 Rocque map. The following extract shows Wapping Old Stairs to the right of the map (the new stairs are also on the map, but on a separate page in my copy of Roque’s maps).

Wapping Old Stairs

Thames stairs provide a useful geographic reference point to events on the river, and newspapers from the early 18th century onward are full of reports of bodies being found, arrivals and departures, crime, lost goods, arriving and departing ships etc.

One report from the 28th October 1738 gives an idea of the types of exotic goods that were arriving at Wapping in the 18th century:

“On Saturday Mess. Wills and Fleming, two Tide Surveyors, found 200 lb of Venice Glass at Wapping Old Stairs, which were sunk in the River in three Bags, fix’d to two Boat-Hooks very artfully. ‘Tis a rich Capture.”

I suspect that 200 lbs of Venice Glass would indeed be a rich capture. What the report does not help with is why they were in the river – lost while transferring from river to land, or perhaps hidden in the river by a thief, ready for later recovery.

Thames river stairs are rich sources of history for that part of London that forms the boundary between river and land (see my post on Life and Death at Alderman Stairs, where I explored in more detail the history of one set of Thames stairs).

Wapping Old Stairs also probably has more cultural references than the majority of other river stairs.

Wapping Old Stairs was the title of a Comic Opera at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1894:

Wapping Old Stairs

The St. James’s Gazette review of the play, which had a rather serious subject for a comic opera:

“The author and composer of ‘Wapping Old Stairs’, the new opera or operetta produced at the Vaudeville on Saturday night, may be congratulated on having achieved a genuine musical and dramatic success. There is but little of the spectacular element in the piece; the same set scene does duty throughout, and almost the only dresses are those of sailors and of their constant associates, ‘the merry maids of Wapping’. The eminent musician in using for his score the old melody of ‘Wapping old Stairs’ , which might have been treated with dramatic effect. 

Mr Stuart Robertson’s book, with but little dramatic basis is ingeniously constructed, and his lyrics are written with grace and point. It appears that in the last century, or even earlier, two sailors of Wapping fell in love with the same girl; on which the most unscrupulous of the young woman’s admirers committed a murder, and so arranged matters that his rival was looked upon as the assassin and, to save his life, fled to foreign parts. But after the lapse of many years the truth came out; when the good man returned to the land of his birth and the girl of his heart, while the bad man was executed, and after ‘ suspension by the neck’ hung ignominiously in chains.

This story is, no doubt a little tragic for a comic opera, and the librettist, whilst softening its harsher features, has introduced in abundance the element of mirth.”

The Vaudeville Theatre is probably the nearest that most West End theatre goers would get to the realities of life in 19th century Wapping. The review of the play also comments on the execution by hanging, which refers to the practice of hanging criminals along the river and a number of places, including Wapping Old Stairs have been referenced as “Execution Dock”. I suspect no single site was used and a number of locations along the Wapping riverbank would have been used.

The Tatler in 1903 produced the following print to go with a song written by Charles Dibdin which referenced the stairs:

“Your London girls with all their airs

Must strike to Poll of Wapping Stairs

No tighter lass is going

From Iron Gate to Limehouse Hole

You’ll never meet a kinder soul

Not while the Thames is flowing”

Wapping Old Stairs

Wapping Old Stairs is reached today, as it has been for many years, by turning off Wapping High Street and walking alongside a pub, which possibly dates back to the 15th Century as the location for a pub. Known from 1533 as The Red Cow, then the Ramsgate Old Town and finally from 1811 as the Town of Ramsgate. This may also date the origins of Wapping Old Stairs as a pub alongside stairs would be ideal for those arriving or departing on the river.

Wapping Old Stairs

The narrow alley leading to the stairs:

Wapping Old Stairs

View of the stairs at low tide:

Wapping Old Stairs

The liquefied mud covering the stairs at low tide does make the stairs a rather risky route down to the foreshore, but once at the bottom, the reward is a superb view along the river. The photo below is the view looking west towards the City. The entrance to what was the London Docks can be seen where the river wall appears to break.

Wapping Old Stairs

The foreshore is littered with London’s history. Rounded nodules of chalk, once used to provide a flattened base on the foreshore for mooring barges and lighters. The bricks that once built the City and Docks, now broken and worn by a thousand tides.

The distinctive two sets of stairs. I suspect the stairs on the right are the original Wapping Old Stairs, and those on the left were added to provide private access for the buildings on the left, built alongside the entrance to the London Docks.

Wapping Old Stairs

It was at the base of these stairs that the children were sitting in the 1948 photo. Interesting to speculate on the countless thousand who have arrived or departed along these stairs, transported cargo to and from the river, or just sat here and watched the river.

The small dock space to the right of the stairs is much the same as in 1948.

Wapping Old Stairs

In the centre of the dock wall, at the point between light and shadow in the above photo is a large round pipe that looks to have been filled, above is a manufacturer’s name:

Wapping Old Stairs

J. Burton Sons & Waller were Gas, Hydraulic and Sanitary Engineers  of John’s Place, Holland Street, Blackfriars, Southwark.

As usual, a brief exploration of part of London’s history, and writing these posts always generates a long list for further research. When were Wapping Old Stairs first used and named, and what part did the stairs play in the development of Wapping. Confirmation of the reason for the double sets of stairs. What did J. Burton Sons & Waller install at Wapping Old Stairs.

For me, the Thames Stairs are where I feel closest to London’s long history in that unique area between the river and the land, and there are many more stairs to explore.

alondoninheritance.com

Fitzrovia Chapel or the Middlesex Hospital Chapel

A brief post for this Sunday, with a visit to a stunning building that is almost all that remains of one of London’s early hospitals. This is the chapel of the old Middlesex Hospital, now known as the Fitzrovia Chapel.

Turn off Tottenham Court Road into Goodge Street, then cross over to where it becomes Mortimer Street, and a short distance along is this rather bland entrance to a recent development – Fitzroy Place.

Fitzrovia Chapel

This is the site of the old Middlesex Hospital, now occupied by a development of apartments, restaurants and office space. There is one main survivor of the hospital, located at the core of the new development that is well worth a visit. This is the chapel of the Middlesex Hospital, now known as the Fitzrovia Chapel. Located in a central square, partly behind a row of trees is the brick built chapel, looking very different from the buildings that now surround.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The exterior of the Fitzrovia Chapel is relatively plain, constructed mainly of red brick with very little in the way of exterior decoration, but step inside the building and a very different experience awaits.

Looking along the nave of the chapel towards the altar (behind the TV screen), and the chancel.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Looking up at the decoration of the chapel.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The interior decoration of the chapel is the complete opposite to the exterior. Colour and decoration cover almost every surface.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The Fitzrovia Chapel is of relatively recent construction. Dating from 1891, with the interior decoration completed by 1929, although the origins of the Middlesex Hospital of which the chapel was part, date back to the 1740s.

The chapel was commissioned by the governors of the hospital in the 1880s as a memorial to Major Alexander Henry Ross, MP who had been Chairman of the Board of hospital governors for 21 years. The architect was John Loughborough Pearson who used a background in Gothic religious architecture to his design for the Middlesex Hospital Chapel.  He would not live to see the chapel completed as he died in 1897, however work on the chapel was continued by his son, Frank Loughborough Pearson, and the chapel was finally completed in 1929.

One of the reasons for the length of time it took to complete the chapel was that a commitment was made that no money meant for patient care would be used for the chapel, so as well as the time needed for building and the complex decoration, it was also the time needed to collect sufficient donations to finish such as beautiful building.

The vaulted roof of the chapel is decorated with stars against a stunning gold background with bands of decoration meeting at the centre.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Another view of the roof.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Stained glass windows add to the impression of a religious building, which indeed it is, however the chapel was not consecrated (there was no legal Deed of Consecration), but was dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in February 1939, who described the building as “without question one of the most beautiful hospital chapels in the realm”.

Fitzrovia Chapel

A weekly service held in the chapel was relayed across the hospital to patients.

The chapel was used for many different purposes over the years. Services, concerts by touring choirs, funerals, however one of the more unusual was probably after the death of Rudyard Kipling at the Middlesex Hospital in January 1936. Kipling, who was described in newspaper reports of the time as the “poet of the British Empire”, was taken to the chapel, where his coffin, draped in a Union Jack, was placed before the altar. A bunch of violets were placed on the coffin. These had been sent by Mrs Baldwin, the wife of the Prime Minister. His body was later cremated and his ashes interred in Westminster Abbey.

Since the original establishment of the Middlesex Hospital, the hospital buildings have been through a number of waves of extension and rebuilding, and the last major rebuild was at the time when the chapel was completed, when virtually the whole of the hospital was rebuilt during the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Either side of the entrance to the nave of the chapel is an apse. The south-west apse is decorated in rich blue and golds.

Fitzrovia Chapel

Which provides space for a font, built from a solid block of deep green marble.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The north-west apse includes a roundel of Saint Barnabas just below the vaulted roof.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The organ gallery above the main entrance to the nave.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The vestibule between the entrance to the chapel and the nave is lined with plaques recording the names of those who donated towards the costs of the chapel, eminent hospital staff, as well as hospital staff who died on duty, including nurses such Dorothy Adams, Maudie Mason, and Grace Briscoe who died from influenza and scarlet fever in 1919.

Fitzrovia Chapel

There are also plaques commemorating John and Frank Loughborough Pearson, the architects of the chapel.

Fitzrovia Chapel

The central square of Fitzroy Place, in which the chapel is located, is called Pearson Square, after the architect(s) of the chapel.

From the 1980s onward, the functions of the Middlesex Hospital were gradually relocated to other London hospitals, with final closure of the site in 2005 when the remaining services were moved to University College Hospital.

The site was sold off for private development, and with the exception of the chapel which was Grade II listed, the entire hospital was demolished in 2008, leaving a large expanse of land with the chapel at the centre. The financial crash of 2008 delayed redevelopment of the site, which was finally commenced in 2011.

As with any large development in London during the last few decades, development included going down as well as up, and the space for four floors of car parking and other facilities was excavated around the chapel, which was underpinned and supported on piers to protect the structure of the chapel.

A condition of Westminster City Council’s planning permission for the overall site was that the developers would fund the restoration of the chapel, which had deteriorated as the hospital gradually contracted and closed. Following restoration, the chapel opened in 2015, having also been transferred to an independent charitable foundation, the Fitzrovia Chapel Foundation to maintain, preserve and run the chapel. It is now open for public viewing on  Wednesday’s, as well as being available for hire for secular wedding ceremonies (I assume because the chapel was dedicated rather than consecrated), exhibition space, private functions etc.

At the time of redevelopment of the site and restoration of the chapel, there was a campaign to retain the name of the Middlesex Hospital Chapel, however this original name probably did not fit with the developer’s intentions for the branding of the new development. The Middlesex Hospital Chapel became the Fitzrovia Chapel to reflect the wider area of Fitzrovia, rather than the old hospital.

I am no expert, but it does seem a trend of the last few decades where public institutions are gradually dispersed allowing a central site to be closed and sold off. Middlesex Hospital had been in operation for over two hundred years and had built up a long tradition of expertise, team work and institutional memory – things which take many years to develop, but are quickly lost and almost impossible to replace.

The Fitzrovia Chapel is all that is left to recall the hospital that once occupied the wider site for over two hundred years. Although it has a new name, hopefully, it will always be the Middlesex Hospital Chapel.

alondoninheritance.com 

Tintern Abbey – Summer 1947 and 2019

As long-term readers of the blog will know, as well as photographing London, my father also took many photos across the country, on National Service and whilst cycling the country and staying at Youth Hostels. For this week’s post, I am visiting a site photographed in 1947. Tintern Abbey in South Wales. I returned in August of this year on a hot sunny day, when a clear blue sky emphasised the beauty of this part of the country, that runs along the valley of the River Wye.

It seemed the right time for the post, on the weekend with the shortest day of the year and the winter solstice, to remember and look forward again to long, sunny summer days.

This was the 1947 view, approaching Tintern Abbey on the road from Chepstow:

Tintern Abbey

A closer view of the abbey:

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is alongside the River Wye which forms the border between England and Wales, so the abbey sits just inside the Welsh border. The River Wye runs through a valley carved through the hills that run along both sides of the river. The majority of the hills are covered in trees, indeed there seems to be more tree cover in 2019 than there was in 1947.

The following map shows the location of Tintern Abbey (circled). The River Severn is the large area of water to the right. the new Severn Crossing is at the bottom of the map and the River Wye curves and loops up from the Severn to create the most wonderful landscape, and to pass alongside Tintern Abbey  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Tintern Abbey

Within the grounds of the abbey. The surrounding hills provide a tree covered background to the ruins.

Tintern Abbey

The origins of Tintern Abbey date back to 1131 when Walter Fitz Richard of Clare, the Anglo-Norman Lord of Chepstow founded the abbey for Cistercian monks who established a basic abbey consisting of timber buildings, alongside the River Wye. Stone buildings soon followed, but it would not be until 1269 when construction would start on the abbey we see today.

The borders between England and Wales were a frequently contested area and Marcher Lords, appointed by the Crown, held land in both Wales and England on either side of the border. It was the patronage of one of the Marcher Lords, Earl Roger Bigod, Lord of Chepstow, who contributed significantly to the funding of the abbey built from 1269. The Bigod family were also responsible for much of the construction of nearby Chepstow Castle.

Work continued through to the early years of the 14th century, when the stunning Gothic church was completed, surrounded by the building and infrastructure of an important Cistercian Abbey of the 14th century.

The abbey would last for a further 200 years, until King Henry VIII’s Reformation when Tintern Abbey was taken by the Crown in 1536.

There then followed centuries of decay. The lead roof was melted down, the arches supporting the roof of the magnificent nave would collapse, the surrounding buildings would be demolished, mainly down to foundation level and much of the stone of the abbey would be robbed and reused for other construction in the area.

The following photo shows the view in 1947, looking along the south transept. The group of men in Army uniform in the foreground were probably with my father, as from other photos he was also in uniform, as part of his National Service was in nearby Chepstow.

Tintern Abbey

After centuries of neglect, Tintern Abbey was rediscovered in the 18th century. The ruins were covered in ivy, small trees and plant growth. The remains of parts of the roof and stone work from the walls covered the abbey grounds.

This “Romantic” view of the British countryside, and antiquities from the past, were the fashion of the time, and became the focus of early forms of tourism.

The romantic view of Tintern Abbey was fed by authors such as Reverend William Gilpin, the poet William Wordsworth, and by the artist JMW Turner, who in 1794 completed the following painting of the east window of Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00374 Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

By 1947, tree and plant growth had been removed, rubble and stone covering the floor of the abbey had been cleared, but the east window still looked exactly the same as when Turner visited the site at the end of the 18th century.

Tintern Abbey

And the east window in the summer of 2019:

Tintern Abbey

The central church of Tintern Abbey looks glorious on a sunny summer’s day. Although the roof has been lost, there is enough of the medieval architecture and craftsmanship remaining to understand what a significant building this must have been.

What is not obvious today, is that many of the standing piers of the abbey ruins have a steel core. After the abbey was handed to the Crown, many of the walls were found to be in such a state that temporary piers were built below the arches. This allowed the original piers to be dismantled, with steel stanchions then being installed, with the original facing stones then being replaced around the new steel core.

The following photo looks along the nave towards the west window.

Tintern Abbey

Although the nave is clear today, when Tintern Abbey was in use, the nave would have been split into separate areas with partition walls, and passages running along the length of the side walls.

The view looking towards the south transept.

Tintern Abbey

Substantial columns, arches and walls, again demonstrate the scale of the original church.

Tintern Abbey

The eastern view of the central church, with the east window:

Tintern Abbey

The view from the north is shown in the following photograph. To the north of the central church, there are the foundations and many of the remaining walls of the buildings that once supported the many functions associated with the abbey – living spaces, store rooms, kitchens etc.

Tintern Abbey

The location contributes so much to the history of Tintern Abbey. The following photo, taken slightly further north, shows the River Wye, the surrounding hills and to the right, the tops of the walls of Tintern Abbey can be seen.

Tintern Abbey

This helps understand why Tintern Abbey was built in such a location.

It was probably a suitable area of flat ground, but being next to the River Wye provided easy access to the River Severn, and therefore out to sea. The River Wye also provides access inland with the town of Monmouth being further north along the river. Transport along the river would have been so much easier than along medieval roads, and probably much safer. The river also must have provided a supply of fish to supplement the monk’s diet. The surrounding hills provided a large supply of timber and wood for burning.

As well as the painting by Turner, Tintern Abbey was the subject of a large number of paintings and drawings that focused on the Gothic / Romantic nature of the ruins.

Tintern Abbey

A south view of Tintern Abbey after S.C. Jones and dated to 1825:

Tintern Abbey

An 1805 hand coloured print of Tintern Abbey:

Tintern Abbey

From the late 18th century onward, Tintern Abbey has attracted significant numbers of visitors. Although the abbey today is not the overgrown, romantic vision which attracted early tourists to the site, it is still remarkably impressive, not just the abbey ruins, but the location which seems to complement the abbey perfectly. The 12th century monks could not have picked a better location.

Tintern Abbey was sold to the Crown in 1901 and is now the responsibility of Cadw, (the Welsh Government’s historic environment service).

Although much of the surroundings of the abbey, not occupied by the church, walls and foundations, are grass lawns, there is a large oak tree that dates from 1911, and the plaque demonstrates that the abbey grounds were seen as the appropriate place to commemorate national events.

Tintern Abbey

The abbey is named after the village of Tintern, which is strung out along the road that passes the abbey, and in the surrounding hills. Evidence of occupation in the Bronze Age can be found in the surrounding hills. In the 6th century, the West Saxons had started to expand into South Wales and in 765 a small church is recorded at Tintern Parva (little Tintern, at the northern end of the village).

According to the Penguin Dictionary of British Place Names, the name is of Celtic origin. The Welsh form of the name is Tyndyrn and means “king’s fortress”.

According to legend, Tewdric, the King of Gwent won a battle against the Saxons near Tintern. In 1849 a sculpture of the event was exhibited in the Sculpture Room of the Royal Academy. The work by J.E. Thomas shows the wounded King Tewdric urging on the pursuit of the fleeing Saxons, attended by his only daughter, Marchell and an aged Welsh bard.

Works such as this, as well as the many prints and paintings of the abbey added to the historical and romantic interest in visiting the area.

From the mid 16th century, a number of iron works were established in the surrounding hills and brass was produced for cannons. Iron works and wire production continued to the late 19th century.

Construction of the Chepstow to Monmouth road in 1829 improved access to the abbey and village, which was further enhanced in 1876 with the opening of the Wye Valley Railway. This must have been one of the most picturesque railways in the country, however it seems to have permanently run at a loss and passenger services closed in 1959, with the line continue to carry limited volumes of production from quarries close to the route, however this trade also finished in 1990 when the railway closed.

To the west of the abbey is a large, relatively flat field:

Tintern Abbey

Goal posts on the field give a clue that this is a community resource. The field also backs onto a pub and cafes between the field and Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

My father also took a number of photos in this field during his visit to Tintern Abbey in 1947:

Tintern Abbey

I have no idea what was happening, whether this was some village event, or perhaps part of the facilities put on for tourists visiting the abbey on a sunny, summer’s day – I suspect the later.

Tintern Abbey

Today, the road leading to the abbey, to the side of the field, is lined with a couple of cafes, gift shop, pub and car parks. The location is popular not just for the abbey, but for walking along the River Wye and the surrounding hills. In 2019 though, there were no horse rides available.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Whether for the history, architecture, the River Wye or the surrounding landscape, Tintern Abbey is a fascinating place to visit. And revisiting on the weekend of the shortest day of the year, after weeks of rain and overcast skies, it is a reminder for me that the days will now get longer and the sun will start to rise higher in the sky.

alondoninheritance.com

The Albert Memorial – A 19th Century World View

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Garden’s is far more than just a memorial to Prince Albert. It is also an embodiment in stone of the Victorian world view. The gleaming gold statue at the centre provides the focal point, but look around the memorial and we can catch a glimpse of how the Victorians saw the world.

The memorial was photographed by my father using Black & White film on a gloriously sunny winter’s day in 1948:

Albert Memorial

The same view on a rather overcast late summer day, 71 years later in 2019:

Albert Memorial

A landscape photo to get a wider view of the base of the memorial:

Albert Memorial

And the same view in 2019:

Albert Memorial

As could be expected, the view is almost the same across 71 years. The Albert Memorial, and the immediate surroundings are the same, as are the majority of the trees in the background.

With London’s ever changing built environment, it is good that there are some places where you can look at a view which has not changed for many years.

The only difference to the memorial is the lack of a cross at the top in the 1948 photo. This was part of the original build, and is part of the memorial today, but was missing in 1948. Bomb damage had knocked off the cross in 1940, and caused damage to the overall memorial. The cross had been replaced by 1955, along with repairs to the overall structure. The following photo shows the Albert Memorial covered in scaffolding in 1954 during post war restoration work:

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial as it appeared soon after completion in 1876, with the gold cross at the top of the monument (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

Albert Memorial

Prince Albert died on the 14th of December 1861 at the age of 42. There had been plans for a statue of Prince Albert in Hyde Park following the 1851 Great Exhibition, however these had not progressed and the prince had made it known that he was not in favour of statues of himself.

After his death, there were many memorials planned and implemented across the country, but the one that attracted the majority of attention, was for a memorial in London. Hyde Park seemed the obvious location as this would build on the original plan for a statue following the 1851 Great Exhibition, however the location would be moved to Kensington Gardens, opposite the Albert Hall which was completed in 1871, a few years prior to the Albert Memorial.

In 1862 a committee was formed to raise funds for a memorial, and proposals were submitted for a memorial from a range of sculptors and architects. Many of the initial designs featured an obelisk. The following is one such early design for the Albert Memorial (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London):

Albert Memorial

The obelisk idea would be dropped in favour of designs that featured a central statue of Prince Albert, surrounded by ornamental statues. Options included the central statue being both covered and open.

Proposals for the memorial took on more of an architectural influence, and one of the submissions was by George Gilbert Scott, who commissioned a model of his proposed design from Farmer and Brindley of Westminster Bridge Road. The model in the following photo shows a Gothic inspired canopy, with spire and cross enclosing a gilded statue of Prince Albert (Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London):

Albert Memorial

Scott’s plans were included in plans submitted to Queen Victoria for approval, and in 1863 Scott’s plans for the Albert Memorial were approved and given the go-ahead, including a sum of £50,000 voted by Parliament to add to the sums already raised by subscriptions.

Construction of the overall Albert Memorial was divided across a number of builders and sculptors.

The builder John Kelk was responsible for the central memorial. The initial sculptor of the central statue of Prince Albert was Baron Carlo Marochetti, however Marochetti died before the work was complete, and the sculptor J. H. Foley was chosen to complete the statue of Prince Albert.

Albert Memorial

The gilding of Albert’s statue was rather controversial after being unveiled. The Globe on Thursday, March 9th 1876 reported:

“The statue of the Prince Consort, facing the Albert Hall, appeared uncovered this morning, glittering in all the splendour of gold. It is most difficult to judge of the artistic value of the work, from the fact that it is very dazzling to the eye, but this result of the work, so long waited for, does not upon a first glance leave a very favourable impression.”

In addition to Prince Albert, there are eight statues to the practical arts and sciences on the pillars and niches of the canopy. There are also eight works surrounding the central canopy.

Four, mounted at each corner on plinths extending from the base of the central canopy represent the “industrial Arts”. These are Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce and Engineering.

The four outer works, at the corners of the railings that separate the memorial from the granite steps leading down to the street, represent the four corners of the globe – Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

All of these works were created by a different sculptor, but in overall form and size had to conform with Scott’s overall design for the memorial.

These eight surrounding works were to represent the interests to which Prince Albert devoted his life, along with the global view of the British Empire, and the memorial was to be viewed as a whole, not just the central statue of Prince Albert.

Construction of the memorial was over a number of years, with the gilded statue completing the memorial in 1876.  As well as the newspaper report on the controversial gilding of the statue, completion finally allowed the memorial to be viewed as a whole, as this report from the Globe on the 10th March 1876 describes:

“The Albert Memorial has at last been completed, and was yesterday dedicated to the public, the statue of the Prince having been uncovered without any attending ceremony.

It is scarcely possible as yet to fairly criticise the effect which the final addition to the monument produces. The colossal statue of the Prince dazzles the eye from the brilliancy of the fresh gilding, and makes the rest of the structure appear rather to disadvantage in point of contrast. An English climate and a city atmousphere will, however, soon correct these defects. Even as it is, the merits of the statue are apparent. hitherto, the memorial had a straggling and incomplete appearance. the several groups which composed it, admirable in point of detail and as separate pieces, wanted concentration and unity. The superb designs representing the four quarters of the world had no structural identity with the architectural part of the monument, and seemed isolated and disconnected. the public can now judge how happy was the idea of giving to the central figure a gilded surface. This mass of glowing lustre attracts the eye at once, and by its importance reduces all the rest of the sculpture to its true subsidiary position.

The gilding of the figure connects the gilding of the roof and shrine above with the gilding of the railwork that forms the extreme limit beneath, and thus makes the whole harmonious. It is necessary, perhaps to insist a little on this advantage, for other points have necessarily been sacrificed to attain it.

A gilded statue can neither be as satisfactory in resemblance, taken by itself, as bronze or as marble. But the true view of the memorial is to regard it as an example of decorative art. Its perfection consists in its entirety. The shrine is as valuable as the treasure which it encloses. We are not to treat the memorial which “Queen Victoria and her people have erected for posterity as a tribute of their gratitude” simply as a statue of the Prince Consort, with suitable surroundings. That would be to miss the whole scheme and design of its originator.

The monument of the Prince happily illustrates those arts and sciences which the devotion of his life nobly fostered in the midst of a not too enlightened people.

The whole structure is as much a memorial of Prince Albert as the statue which recalls his well-known presence.

We see it at last completed after a lapse of ten years, and welcome it as an answer to that piece of flippant generalisation which proclaims that nothing in this country which attempts to be artistic can be successful.”

Around the base of the central canopy and out to the railings that surround the memorial are eight groups of sculpture. The inner four represent the “Industrial Arts” and the outer four represent the four corners of the globe. Each work was by a different sculptor.

Three of my father’s photos were of these works. Photographed on a sunny day, with the sun in the right position, and in black & white film, which after looking at my colour photos, I am of the view that black & white is one of the best ways to photograph this type of work.

Europe:

Albert Memorial

Another view of the Europe sculpture grouping with the central canopy in the background:

Albert Memorial

Africa:

Albert Memorial

On a rather dull, late summer’s day, I photographed all the sculpture groupings, starting with the outer works of four corners of the globe.

This is Asia by John Henry Foley:

Albert Memorial

Europe by Patrick Macdowell:

Albert Memorial

The figures in each of these works were symbolic of the countries they represented, so in the Europe grouping above, the central figure as viewed from this perspective is that of France – a military power, holding a sword in the figure’s right hand, and a laurel wreath in the left hand.

America by John Bell:

Albert Memorial

Africa by William Theed:

Albert Memorial

Now come the inner groupings, the industrial arts, starting with Agriculture by Calder Marshall:

Albert Memorial

Manufacturers by Henry Weekes:

Albert Memorial

Engineering by John Lawlor:

Albert Memorial

Commerce by Thomas Thornycroft:

Albert Memorial

There are further works, around the base of the podium with a continuous frieze of reliefs which represent poets, musicians, painters, architects and sculptors. The frieze was split between two sculptors, J.B. Philips was responsible for architects and sculptors and H.H. Armstead for the rest of the works.

Albert Memorial

Detail of part of the musicians section of the frieze:

Albert Memorial

Each individual is named either above or below the figure.

Detail from the musicians frieze:

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is a complex object, and was both loved and criticised when revealed as a completed work.

The gilding of the statue of Prince Albert, the arrangement of the surrounding sculptures, the sculptural work and interpretation of the theme of each work. The Gothic canopy. The whole memorial needs to be considered as a single piece of work, and was intended to reflect the interests of Prince Albert. The choice of characters and their interpretation reflects the mid Victorian outlook on the world, and the central frieze acts as an encyclopedia of those considered important in their respective cultural fields.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the Albert Memorial was in a critical state.

The statue of Prince Albert had been blackened during the First World War, to prevent it being a target during Zeppelin raids. The surrounding sculptures were damaged, and the whole memorial was in need of cleaning and repair.

A decade long restoration of the memorial was completed in 1998, which included Prince Albert being re-gilded. He now shines in the sun, as intended, as he looks out over south Kensington.

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Rosebery Avenue, St John Street and Amwell Street

A couple of week’s ago I wrote about the New River Head. Whilst in the area, I took advantage of a walk along Rosebery Avenue, St John Street and Amwell Street to visit the location of some of our 1985 photos, and also to explore the area in a bit more detail. What follows is therefore a rather random walk, but as with any London street, there is so much interesting architecture, history and people to discover.

The following map shows some of the key locations in this week’s post (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Rosebery Avenue

  • Location 1 is the starting point, at the junction of Rosebery Avenue and Clerkenwell Road
  • Location 2 is the site of a hairdressers photographed in 1985
  • Location 3 is a row of 18th century houses which in 1985 looked doomed to demolition, and also where Rosebery Avenue meets St John Street
  • Location 4 is a long open chemist in Amwell Street
  • Location 5 is an old engineering business also in Amwell Street
  • Location 6, for reference, is New River Head, the location of the post a couple of weeks ago.

Rosebery Avenue runs from points 1 to 3 on the map, and is one of those late Victorian streets, built to support the increasing volume of traffic across London, and to provide a wide through route where before only a maze of narrow streets existed.

Clearance of the route commenced in 1887, and the new street was opened in July 1892. The new street was named after Lord Rosebery, the first chairman of the London County Council. Lord Rosebery had resigned from the LCC a few days before the opening of Rosebery Avenue, so John Hutton, the vice chairman took on the task of formally opening the street.

Compared to many other 19th century London street openings, that of Rosebery Avenue seems to have been rather subdued. The Illustrated London News reported simply that:

“The new street from the Angel at Islington to the Holborn Townhall, Gray’s Inn Road, called Rosebery Avenue, was opened on Saturday, July 9, by the Deputy Chairman of the London County Council. It is 1173 yards long, straight and broad, with a subway under it for laying gas and water mains and electric wires. It has cost £353,000, but part of this expenditure will be recovered by the sale of land”.

As well as being the first chairman of the LCC, Lord Rosebery was a prominent politician of the late 19th century and was a Liberal Party Prime Minister between March 1894 and June 1895 after William Gladstone had retired. In 1895 Rosebery’s government lost a vote of confidence and the resulting general election returned a Unionist Government. He continued to lead the Liberal Party for a year, then permanently retired from politics.

Lord Rosebery after whom Rosebery Avenue is named:

Rosebery Avenue

The following map extract is from “Reynolds’s Splendid New Map of London; Showing The Grand Improvements for 1847”, and shows the area before the construction of Rosebery Avenue.

Location 1 is the same as in the above map, where the future Rosebery Avenue would meet Clerkenwell Road. Point 3 is where the new street will meet St John Street and point 6 is New River Head, with the ponds as they were in 1847.

The red oval is around a House of Correction. This was Coldbath Fields Prison, where the Mount Pleasant Post Office buildings would later be constructed. The south-east corner of these buildings are close to Rosebery Avenue.

Rosebery Avenue cut across the Fleet valley, cut through numerous streets, and cut short many streets including Exmouth Street which originally ran up to the site of the prison.

The following photo is at location 1, looking from Clerkenwell Road, across to the start of Rosebery Avenue:

Rosebery Avenue

Construction of Rosebery Avenue would displace a large number of people, as housing would be demolished to make way for the new street. The LCC mandated the construction of new housing to the south of the street before work commenced on the northern sections.

A short distance along Rosebery Avenue we can see the evidence of the LCC’s requirement with two identical blocks of flats lining the street – Rosebery Square, east and west. The following photo shows Rosebery Square east.

Rosebery Avenue

The new buildings were completed and ready to house those displaced by the new street in July 1891. A plaque on the wall records the names of the parish church wardens at the time of construction:

Rosebery Avenue

Parts of the southern section of Rosebery Avenue, between Laystall Street and Coldbath Square, are higher than the surrounding land. (See this post on Laystall Street) This allows extra lower floors to be part of buildings such as Rosebery Square, and also requires a viaduct as shown in the photo below where the street crosses Warner Street.

Rosebery Avenue

The photo above also shows how the buildings facing onto Rosebery Avenue drop down below the level of the street, and are therefore much larger than they appear.

A short distance further along, just before the junction with Mount Pleasant and Coldbath Square is the first of the locations photographed in 1985. In 2019, this is the Pleasant Barbers:

Rosebery Avenue

Who twenty-four years ago, were The Pleasant Gent’s Hairdresser, but at the same location:

Rosebery Avenue

It is interesting how the name of a trade changes over time. In the 1980s, to get your hair cut (for a man) you went to a Hairdresser. Today, you go to a Barber.

Hairdressers / Barbers are a type of shop we have been photographing for the past 40 years. They are usually local businesses, not part of a chain and have individual character. One of the few types of business that is not under threat from the Internet.

A few years ago I wrote a post about Hairdressers of 1980s London, featuring a selection from 1985 and 1986. Many have since disappeared, but there are still plenty to be found across London.

After the building with Pleasant Barbers, we find the south-east corner of the Royal Mail sorting office at Mount Pleasant.

Rosebery Avenue

The area occupied by the Mount Pleasant sorting office was the site of the House of Correction shown in the 1847 map – a location that deserves a dedicated article.

On the opposite side of Rosebery Avenue is the Grade II listed, former Clerkenwell Fire Station.

Rosebery Avenue

A fire station had existed on the site before the construction of the building we see from Rosebery Avenue. The site increased in importance over the years, becoming the Superintendent’s Station for the Central District by 1890.

The original fire station was extended over the years, and the section facing onto Rosebery Avenue was constructed between 1912 and 1917, and included parts of the original fire station buildings and the 1896 extensions to the building.

The architectural quality of the building draws from the London County Council’s development of London housing, as architects from the LCC housing department also had responsibility for fire station design from the start of the 20th century.

Clerkenwell Fire Station closed in 2014 – one of the ten London Fire Stations closed in the same year due to budget cuts when Boris Johnson was Mayor.

A reminder of the London County Council origins of Clerkenwell Fire Station:

Rosebery Avenue

The fire station stands at the south-eastern corner of the junction of Rosebery Avenue and Farringdon Road. This is where Exmouth Street was shortened slightly. In the photo below, I am looking across the junction to Exmouth Street.

Rosebery Avenue

If you look at the 1847 map, Exmouth Street was originally on a main route between Goswell Road and Gray’s Inn Road, along with Myddelton Street (a New River reference).

The construction of Rosebery Avenue faced a number of legal challenges and one of these was from the Marquis of Northampton who was after £22,000 of compensation due to the impact on his properties around Exmouth Street and that “the remainder of the estate would be seriously depreciated by the diversion of traffic from Exmouth Street to the new thoroughfare, thus converting that street into a back street”.

Exmouth Street today is a back street as far as traffic is concerned, but now is the location of the Exmouth Street market.

The Marquis of Northampton, or Lord Northampton and his landholdings in Clerkenwell featured in a map created in 1909 by William Bellinger Northrop and titled “Landlordism Causes Unemployment”.

Rosebery Avenue

Map from Cornell University – PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography and reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) Unported License

The aim of Northrop’s map was to show how “Landlordism” was strangling London, with large areas of the city being owned by the rich and powerful. Northrop claimed that Lord Northampton owned 260 acres in Clerkenwell and that this estate produced an annual rent of £1,600,000.

Continuing along Rosebery Avenue and the gradual increase in height is more apparent now, showing again why New River Head was located at close to the end of Rosebery Avenue as the drop to the city aided the flow of water from reservoir to consumer.

There are plenty of interesting buildings along the street, and a mix of architectural styles, one rather ornate building is the old Finsbury Town Hall:

Rosebery Avenue

Finsbury Town Hall was built between 1894 and 1895 on land cleared following the construction of Rosebery Avenue. The original vestry building was in a southern corner of the same plot, however a much larger triangular plot of land had been reduced to a much smaller triangular plot as Rosebery Avenue cut through Rosamond Street (now Rosoman Street).

In the following extract from the 1847 map, the red line is the rough alignment of how Rosebery Avenue would cut through the area. The blue rectangle is the original vestry building, and the red dashed lines show the location of the Finsbury Town Hall which now faces onto Rosebery Avenue.

Rosebery Avenue

Soon after completion, in 1900, the building became the town hall of the new Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury.

As well as conducting council business for the borough, the town hall also had two large rooms available for council functions and public hire.

Typical of the events held in the town hall was a Carnival Ball of Costermongers belonging to the National Association of Street Traders held at Finsbury Town Hall on the 30th January 1928:

Rosebery Avenue

Local government changes meant that in 1965 the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury was integrated with the London Borough of Islington, and the majority of council functions moved to Islington Town Hall, with only a small number of council operations remaining in the old Finsbury building.

The building entered a gradual state of decay, and by the end of the 1980s, council functions had to be moved out of the building.

Finsbury Town Hall almost fell to the “luxury flat” fate of so many other buildings across the city, however in 2005 the dance school, the Urdang Academy commenced the redevelopment of the building, moving in, in 2006.

The building continues to be the home of the Urdang Academy, with some of the large halls still available for hire.

The ornate entrance to the old Finsbury Town Hall from Rosebery Avenue:

Rosebery Avenue

Leaving Finsbury Town Hall, we reach New River Head, which I explored a couple of weeks ago, and then Sadler’s Wells, which demands a dedicated post, so I will continue to the end of Rosebery Avenue, and to the junction with St John Street, where the next location of my 1985 photos is to be found.

Across St John Street, and just to the south of the junction with Rosebery Avenue is a short stub of street by the name of Owen’s Row, with a terrace of late 18th century houses. In 1985 these were boarded up, and appeared to be at risk:

Rosebery Avenue

Thankfully in 2019, they are still here and looking in good condition. A wider view in the photo below to the 1985 photo, showing Owen’s Row with the terrace, and the former Empress of Russia pub on the corner with St John Street.

Rosebery Avenue

The Empress of Russia pub dates to the early 19th century. The pub closed in 2000, went through a series of food related businesses, before returning to a pub in the form of the Pearl and Feather.

From 1985 the Empress of Russia was the regular London performance venue of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, where it was usual to hear the music of the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground played on the Ukelele.

The alignment of Owen’s Row is down to the New River.

Building of a row of houses along the eastern bank of the New River commenced in 1773 by Thomas Rawstorne, who started building from the St John Street junction. When built, the houses faced onto the New River.

Look in the centre of the following extract from the 1847 map. Just above the S in the word Street of St John Street, is the word Owens, and to the left of this is the channel of the New River, flowing to the bottom of the map towards New River Head. In 1847 this section of the New River was still uncovered.

Rosebery Avenue

Owen’s Row would not become a street until 1862 when this section of the New River was enclosed and covered.

Today, the terrace consists of just four houses, but following the start of the street in 1773, houses extended further along the eastern edge of the New River. The following photo from 1946 shows the extended terrace, with a row of three floor buildings after those with four floors. These were later demolished, and the end of the original Owen’s Row is now occupied by the Sixth Form College of the City and Islington College.

Rosebery Avenue

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: SC_PHL_01_087_F3305

What is interesting in the above photos, is that in all photos of the remaining terrace, the bricks of the fourth floor are a very different shade to those on the lower three floors. It is more clearly visible in the 1946 photo, and would indicate that the terrace was originally built with three floors, with a later addition of a fourth floor.

Really good to see that part of the terrace remains, and that although boarded up in 1985, they were not demolished. Owen’s Row is also a physical reminder of the route of the new river, and when this terrace of houses looked out onto water flowing through the channel to New River Head.

Although I still had two 1985 photos to track down, I find wandering the streets fascinating, and in the streets around St John Street there are so many interesting places.

On the corner of St John Street and Chadwell Street are Turner & George, butchers.

Rosebery Avenue

The Turner & George business is new, only opening in the last few years, however the shop has long been a butchers.

In the tiling below the windows is the word BLAND. This refers to the Bland family who ran a butchers in St John Street from 19th century.

In 1882, there was a Mrs Sarah Bland recorded as Butcher of 563 St John Street-road, Clerkenwell, The present building is at number 399 St John Street, so Sarah Bland’s butchers may have been at a different location, or more likely, at the current corner location, which has changed number, as streets were frequently renumbered as streets changed over the years.

On the corner of Arlington Way and Chadwell Street is the business of Thomas B. Treacy – Funeral Directors.

Rosebery Avenue

I have not been able to find any evidence, however I suspect the building may have originally been a pub. The corner location, and the round corner for the building are typical of 19th century pubs.

One pub that does survive is The Harlequin in Arlington Way.

Rosebery Avenue

The Harlequin was first recorded as a beer house around 1848, with the current name being in use by 1894.

Although there is plenty of interest in the streets around Rosebery Avenue and St John Street, I had two more 1985 photo locations to find, so I walked across to Amwell Street to find the location of W.C. & K. King, Chemists, who had this wonderful lantern hanging outside the shop in 1985.

Rosebery Avenue

In 2019, the shop is still a chemists, and the same shop front survives, however the lantern has disappeared.

Rosebery Avenue

The lantern claims 1839 as the year the business was established, however I can find no evidence of when the business opened, or when W.C. & K, King where proprietors.

I continued walking down along Amwell Street, past the point where I photographed the base of the New River Head windmill, and then found this rather magnificent building – giving the appearance of a large brick built castle guarding Amwell Street:

Rosebery Avenue

This is the Grade II listed Charles Rowan House.

Built between 1928-1930 to provide accommodation for married police officers, the building was design by Gilbert Mackenzie Trench who was the architect for the Metropolitan Police.

Built of red brick, the large rectangular building provided 96 two and three-bedroom flats, arranged around a central courtyard. The longer sides of the building are along the roads leading off from Amwell Street, and it is in these two side streets that the arched entrances to the central courtyard and the flats can be found.

The building transferred to local council ownership in 1974. I am not sure how much of the building remains as council provided housing. I suspect many of the flats have transferred to private ownership through right to buy, and today, a 2 bedroom flat in Charles Rowan House can be had for £650,000.

The building is named after Sir Charles Rowan, the first Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and his obituary published on the 11th May 1852 in the London Daily News, reveals a link between the Metropolitan Police and the Battle of Waterloo:

“Death of Sir Charles Rowan K.C.B. – Sir Charles Rowan, later Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, died at his residence in Norfolk-street, Park-lane on Saturday the 8th inst. he entered the army as an ensign in the 52nd Light Infantry, in 1797, and served with that distinguished regiment in the expedition to Ferrol in 1800; in Sicily, in 1806-7; and with Sir John Moore’s expedition to Sweden in 1808. He joined the army in Portugal after the Battle of Vimiera, and served from that time with the reserve forces of Sir John Moore, and in the Battle of Corunna. he also served with great distinction both in Spain and Portugal, and commanded a wing of the 52nd at the Battle of Waterloo, when he was wounded; he was also wounded at Badajoz, on which occasion he received the brevet rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1815 he was appointed companion of the Bath. From 1829, the year the Metropolitan Police Force was instituted, until 1859, he was chief commissioner, and for his services in that capacity was, in 1848, nominated a knight commander of the Bath”.

Fascinating that the building is named after someone who fought at the Battle of Waterloo, and that same person became the first chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

The construction of Charles Rowan House obliterated a street and a large number of houses, and it was here that Amwell Street ended.

In the following extract from the 1896 edition of the Ordnance Survey map, I have marked the location of Charles Rowan House with the large red rectangle.

Rosebery Avenue

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Amwell Street ran to the northern tip of what would later become Charles Rowan House, and from then down to Rosebery Avenue, the street was named Rosoman Street.  Today, Amwell Street extends onto Rosebery Avenue, replacing the Rosoman Street name.

This is relevant as it helped me find more details of the following location, photographed in 1985:

Rosebery Avenue

In the 1901 census, the address was 95 Rosoman Street rather than 13 Amwell Street.

The building was occupied by:

  • Frederick Bowman, aged 52 and occupation Brass Founder
  • Ellen Bowman, aged 39, his wife
  • Irene Bowman, aged 14, daughter
  • Ruby Bowman, aged 13, daughter
  • Theophilus Bowman, aged 11, son
  • Christie Bowman, aged 7, daughter
  • Helen Munto, aged 32, servant

If the business was founded in 1865 as recorded on the front of the building, then I am not sure it was the Frederick Bowman of the 1901 census, as he would have been too young, and all his children were recorded as being born in Chingford, Essex.

I cannot find any reference to an earlier F. Bowman. In the 1911 census, Frederick Bowman was still living at 95 Rosoman Street, aged 64 and still working as a Brass and Aluminium Founder. All his children still lived at home, however Helen Munto had left (perhaps returning to her native Scotland), and the new servant was Edward Redgrave, aged 30.

Frederick seems to have been a name used by the family over the generations, as Theophilus middle name was Frederick. Chingford also seems to have been a family connection as Theophilus would marry Florence May Jerome at Chingford in 1922.

Theophilus would go on to live in Chingford, but he would also carry on the family trade, as in the 1939 census, his occupation is given as Brass Moulder – what is not clear is whether he worked in Chingford, or commuted to the Rosoman / Amwell Street business.

The same location in 2019:

Rosebery Avenue

The 1985 photo implies that the entrance to the business was in the centre, with the entrance to the family home to the right.

In 2019 it looks as if the building has been converted to a home, with a single entrance door to the right, and the paving leading to the business door removed to open up the cellar.

Frederick Bowman’s name still looks onto Amwell Street.

A short distance on, and I was back on Rosebery Avenue. Although the walk did not have a theme, to me it is the fascination of what can be found on random walking across London, on this walk using some 1985 photos as a guide.

Businesses that continue to (hopefully) thrive on London’s streets such as the Pleasant Barbers, Lord Northampton’s hold over the land of Clerkenwell, a row of houses that owe their alignment to the New River, a block of flats named after a Waterloo survivor, and a street named after the first chairman of the London County Council, and future Prime Minister are typical of the fascinating stories to be found all over London.

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Hotwater Court, Fann Street and Golden Lane Estate

For today’s post, I am back in the area of the Barbican, Golden Lane Estate and Fann Street, searching for the locations of the photos taken by my father and showing a very different scene to that of today.

A few week’s ago, I wrote about the Baltic Street School as this appeared in one of the photos. This week’s photos are from roughly the same position, however looking east rather than to the north, and this was the post war view:

Fann Street

In the following photo, he had walked up closer to the building that remains on the site, and we can see part of the name of the business that occupied the building.

Fann Street

Locating the building was easy as I had already located the position from where the first photograph was taken to identify the Baltic Street School, and there is some overlap in the buildings in the distance.

The following map extract shows the large area, with all the buildings demolished and cleared following wartime destruction, ready for the future construction of the Golden Lane Estate.

Fann Street

The building circled by the red oval is the building that appears in my father’s photos. The premises of Maurice Rosenberg – Skirt Manufacturer. The edge of the building is on to Fann Street and the long side of the building faces the wonderfully named Hotwater Court.

Hotwater Court, although not visible, would have been in front of the building in my father’s photos.

This is the same location today  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors):

Fann Street

The overall length of Fann Street has been straightened out, however the section where Maurice Rosenberg’s premises were located is very much the same, and possible to identify in the street pattern of today.

To the right of the junction of Viscount Street and Fann Street is the Jewin Welsh Church. This is marked on the 2019 map, and is marked as a “ruin” in the earlier Ordnance Survey map, however the current incarnation of the church stands on the same site as the original.

Hotwater Court was just across and to the right of the Viscount Street / Fann Street junction, and today’s map shows a narrow street leading north in the same location as the original Hotwater Court.

On a wet and overcast day, this was the view looking across from Fann Street to where Hotwater Court was located, which today provides an entrance from Fann Street into the Golden Lane Estate.

Fann Street

I tried some very amateur Photoshopping to show where the building in the original photo, facing onto Hotwater Court, would appear today – this was the result:

Fann Street

However, I can show a much better photograph. Post war London was used in a wide range of films in the late 1940s and 1950s, and following one of my earlier posts on the Golden Lane Estate, I was sent a reference to a 1950 film “No Place for Jennifer”, and a link to the wonderful Reel Streets site which features a number of locations from the film, including Fann Street and Hotwater Court.

I found a copy of the DVD online for £3.66, and ordered. The film dates from 1950 and tells the story of the impact on Jennifer of her parents divorce. Towards the end of the film, she runs away through the streets of London, Euston Station, the Underground, and at one point, hides from a strange pursuer in the ruins around what is now the Golden Lane Estate.

It is very much of its time, much of the dialogue is in received pronunciation, but the London street scenes are brilliant, and include a brief sequence looking across Fann Street to Hotwater Court, with the premises of Maurice Rosenberg on the corner:

Fann Street

The building on the right edge of the above still from the film is part of the ruins of the Jewin Welsh Church.

The building still looks intact, with none of the damage that the rest of the area suffered. No idea whether the building was just lucky, or whether it had been repaired after the bombing and resultant fires devastated so much of the area in 1940 / 41.

Checking the 1942 Kelly’s Post Office Directory, and the address of Maurice Rosenberg is still given as 40 Fann Street (although the longer edge of the building was on Hotwater Court, it had a Fann Street address). The entry also has an emergency address for Maurice Rosenberg at 87 Aldersgate, so he may have kept the original building and had some operations remain there, but had also moved to a building on Aldersgate Street possibly due to the damage around Fann Street.

Hotwater Court is an interesting name. I cannot find a source for the name, and Henry Harben in A Dictionary of London, states:

“Hot Water Court – North out of Fann Street at No. 49. A portion only within the City boundary. First mention: L.C.C List, 1901”

Although Harben gives 1901 as the first mention of the name, I did find earlier references to Hotwater Court, including the following letter printed in the Police Intelligence section of the London Sun on the 15th November 1847. It is a rather grim read, but does confirm the existence of the name at a much earlier date, and illustrates the dreadful conditions around Golden Lane in the mid 19th century:

“Sir, – I respectfully beg to submit the following report for your information, in consequence of illness and death in the neighbourhood of Barbican, Bridgewater-square &c, supposed to be caused by exhalations emanating from a burial ground situated in Golden-lane, part of which is within the City, belonging to a man named Bamford, who has it on a lease.

I sent police-constable 125 (Eade), who is on the beat, to the burial ground on Sunday last, when he saw 11 graves open, about 28 feet deep; one of them contained nine coffins on each other. the graves are merely covered over with planks, until they are quite full, leaving them about a yard from the surface when the ground is covered in. 

They are frequently left open as described, for a week or ten days; the ground is therefore seldom free from the effluvium of decomposed matter. On my rounds at night I have witnessed the obnoxious smell arising from the rear of the graveyard in Sun-court, which is almost suffocating. I am also informed by police-constable 125 (Eade), that a shopkeeper named Bouverie, 10, Golden-lane, opposite the burial ground, states, that during the last three of four years he has kept the house, 32 persons have died there; and at certain times he has absolutely been compelled to fumigate his shop, the smell from the graveyard and sewers being so offensive.

A publican named Duffy, in Golden-lane, is very seldom without a medical man in his house attending his family. A person named Parrock,, 12, Brackley-street, is compelled to leave his business (although a good one) through illness.

The courts leading from Golden-court, Crown-court, Collins-court, Sun-court, Hotwater-court, Turk’s Head-court, and Willis’s-court are thronged by very poor persons, and are much affected by the stench.

The houses in those courts are small and thickly inhabited, nine or ten persons living in a room, which causes the fever to rage rapidly. A metropolitan police-constable informed police-constable Eade that six persons are now lying dead and a great number are lying very ill in the locality of Golden-lane, between the burial ground alluded to and another burial ground being only 300 yards apart in Golden-lane.

I further beg to call your attention to the undermentioned names, persons who have died within the last three weeks in the immediate neighbourhood of Golden-lane; also to the names of persons who at the present time are labouring under illness – it is presumed fever.”

An appalling account of conditions around Golden Lane in 1847. Not just how nine to ten people were crowded together in a single room, but they were also living almost on top of the dead.

The article does at least confirm that Hotwater Court was, along with a number of other courts, in existence in 1847.

The area around Golden Lane is very different today, with empty space in the post war Ordnance Survey map now occupied by the 1950s and early 1960s Golden Lane Estate.

The building on the left of what was Hotwater Court is now Cuthbert Harrowing House, built between 1954 and 1956 and named after Public Health Committee former chair, Thomas Cuthbert Harrowing .

Fann Street

Adjacent to the entrance is this brilliant 3D map of the Golden Lane Estate, which I understand dates to around the time of construction of the estate.

Fann Street

Whilst I was taking a photograph, I was talking to a resident of the estate, who knew about the map, but had not looked at the map in detail. Whilst the Community Centre is still there, he was not sure what building 12, the workshop was or is.

Building number 6, Bowater House, is the building where the Maurice Rosenberg building was located, and between buildings 6 and 7, and up alongside building 11 was the location of Hotwater Court.

Directly opposite, on the corner of Fann Street and Viscount Street is the Jewin Welsh Presbyterian Chapel:

Fann Street

This is the building marked as a ruin in the Ordnance Survey map, and a corner of the building is seen in the film clip.

The roof and interior of the church had been destroyed during the war. The following photo from the LMA Collage site shows the front of the church in Viscount Street.

Fann Street

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: M0078083CL

The Jewin Welsh Church or Chapel is the oldest Welsh church in London, although it has not always been at this location. Formed in Cock Lane, Smithfield in the 1770s, the church moved a couple of times before arriving in Jewin Crescent in 1823 (Jewin Cescent is one of the many streets lost under the Barbican development, I wrote about the street in my post on the Cripplegate Institute and Jewin Crescent.

The church moved from Jewin Crescent to the current location in 1879. A new church was built at a cost of around £10,000, and the church retained the name of Jewin, thereby providing a link between a church we can see today, and a street lost under the Barbican.

Apart from the outer walls, the church was destroyed in 1940, but rebuilt after the war, with the building we see today opening in 1960.

Dwindling attendance almost resulted in the closure of the chapel in 2013, however a campaign to raise awareness of the chapel resulted in closure being avoided, and although a relatively new building, it is good to see that the chapel remains and continues serving much the same function as when the original church formed in the 1770s.

There are a couple of interesting plaques along the Fann Street side of the church, one in the pavement, the second on the wall.

Fann Street

The plaque on the wall records the Huguenot Fan Makers who settled around Fann Street, and that the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers had their common hall nearby.

Fann Street

It would be an obvious association between the street name, and the fan making occupation, however this does not appear to be the case.

A number of references I checked with confirmed there was no association between the Fan making trade and the street name. Henry Harben in A Dictionary of London writes:

“Fann Street – east out of Aldersgate Street, at No 106 to Golden Lane. Part of the street is in Aldersgate and Cripplegate wards Without, and part is in the Borough of Finsbury outside the City boundary.

First mention: Fan Street (Horwood, 1799)

Former names: Fanns Alley (Ogilby and Morgan’s map of London 1677, Strype 1720)

Fanns Alley (Rocque, 1746)

Stanns Alley (Strype, 1720 and 1755)

Bridgewater Gardens (Company of Parish Clerks 1732, ordnance Survey, 1875)

In former times the street extended only from Aldersgate to Bridgewater Gardens, but in 1878 the name Fann Street was adopted for the whole street to Golden Lane, including Bridgewater Gardens.

The early forms suggest that it was named after an owner or builder.”

Other references suggest the same origins of the name, with The London Encyclopedia by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert stating that “The origin of the name is uncertain but it is thought to be that of a 17th-century land owner or builder.”

So no connection between the name of Fann Street and fan makers, however the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers is an interesting company, and demonstrates how a traditional City Livery Company has had to adapt to changing technologies and fashions, whilst maintaining an interest in the traditional craft.

The origins of the formation of the Fan Makers Company go back to the late 17th century, when there was a large influx of protestant fan makers from the Continent to London after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. These were the Huguenot Fan Makers mentioned on the plaque on the side of the chapel.

The native fan makers started to organise to preserve their trade, and the Fan Makers were Incorporated on 19th April 1709 as a result of a petition to Queen Anne. They were concerned with both the impact of dilution on the indigenous trade by those migrating to the country, and also with the unrestricted import of fans.

The Company was granted Livery status in 1809, however by then the Company was past its peak as the Fan trade had peaked in the 18th century. It was then a story of gradual decline, but with occasional highlights including fan making competitions in the 1870s, the support of Queen Victoria (who donated £400 for prizes), and regular presentations of fans at events such as Coronations.

In the 20th century, the Fan Makers had to adapt further, and in 1939 extended their scope to the manufacture of industrial fans, and post war with aerospace technologies such as the fans used in jet engines.

The Fan Makers continue to champion the traditional fan, and have established an endowment fund to support the development and retention of fan making skills.

The Harben explanation of the street name includes a reference that part of the street is outside the City boundary, and physical proof of this can be seen along the pavement outside the Welsh Chapel where there is a boundary marker showing the boundary between St Luke’s Middlesex and the City of London.

Fann Street

The area bounded by Fann Street, Goswell Road, Golden Lane and Baltic Street is now unrecognisable from the dreadful description of the area in 1847. By the late 19th century many of the courts seem to have disappeared, although Hotwater Court, Turks Head Court and Bridgewater Square remained.

Late 19th / early 20th century development produced buildings of the type occupied by Maurice Rosenberg, however the area was devastated during the raids of 1940, and only recovered with the build of the Golden Lane Estate.

Few traces remain of the pre-war landscape, however the rebuilt Jewin Welsh Chapel continues the religious role, and association with the Welsh community of London from pre-war, and the lost Jewin Crescent.

Hotwater Court is an intriguing name. Names often had some local meaning, but I have not been able to find any reference as to the origins of the name.

The space occupied by Hotwater Court is today an entrance to the Golden Lane Estate – it would be nice to see the name return to maintain a link with the area’s history.

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New River Head and London’s Water Industry

Last week I had the opportunity to research the New River, and to walk around the site of New River Head, where the New River terminated, just south of the Pentonville Road.

The New River dates to the start of the 17th century, a time when there was a desperate need for supplies of clean water to a rapidly expanding city. Numerous schemes were being proposed, and the build of the New River tells the story of how the City of London, Parliament, the Crown and private enterprise all tried to gain an advantage and ownership of significant new infrastructural services, the power they would have over the city, and the expected profits.

The New River proposal was for a man-made channel, bringing water in from springs around Ware in Hertfordshire (Amwell and Chadwell springs) to the city. A location was needed outside the city where water from the New River could be stored, treated and then distributed to consumers across the city.

The site chosen, called New River Head, was located between what is now Rosebery Avenue and Amwell Street. The red rectangle on the following map shows the area occupied by New River Head (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

New River Head

The story of the New River dates back to 1602 when a former army officer from Bath, Edmund Colthurst who had served in Ireland, proposed a scheme to bring in water from Hertfordshire springs to a site to the north of the city.

As a reward for his military service, he was granted letters patent from King James I, to construct a channel, six feet wide, to bring water from Hertfordshire to the city.

Colthurst’s was not the only scheme for supplying water to the city. There were a number of other private companies, and the City of London Corporation was looking at similar schemes to bring in water from the River Lea and Hertfordshire springs.

Whilst Colthurst’s project was underway, the City of London petitioned parliament, requesting that the City be granted the rights to the water sources and for the construction of a channel to bring the water to the city.

In 1606 the City of London was successful when parliament granted the City access rights to the Hertfordshire water, a decision which effectively destroyed Colthurst’s scheme, which collapsed after the construction of 3 miles of the river channel.

It was an interesting situation, as Colthurst had the support of the King, through the letters patent he had been granted, whilst the City of London had the support of parliament.

The City of London took a few years deciding what to do with the water rights granted by parliament, and in 1609 granted these rights to a wealthy City Goldsmith, Hugh Myddelton. He was a member of the Goldsmiths Company, an MP (for Denbigh in Wales), and one of his brothers, Thomas Myddelton was a City alderman and would later become Lord Mayor of the City of London, so Myddelton probably had all the right connections, which Colthurst lacked.

Colthurst obviously could see how he had been outflanked by the City, so agreed to join the new scheme, and was granted shares in the project. Colthurst joining the City of London’s scheme thereby uniting the rights granted by James I and parliament.

Work commenced on the New River in 1609, but swiftly ran into problems with owners of land through which the New River would pass, objecting to the work, and the loss of land. A number of land owners petitioned Parliament to repeal the original acts which had granted the rights to the City, however when James I dissolved Parliament in 1611, the scheme was given three years to complete construction and find a way to overcome land owners objections, as parliament would not be recalled until 1614.

There were originally 36 shares in the New River Company. Myddleton had decided to enlist the support of James I to address the land owners objections, and created an additional 36 new shares and granted these to James I who would effectively own half the company.

in return, James I granted the New River Company the right to build on his land, he covered half the costs, and Royal support influenced the other land owners along the route, removing their objections, as any further attempts to hinder the work would result in the king’s “high displeasure”.

The New River was completed in 1613. It was a significant engineering achievement. Although the straight line distance between the springs around Ware and New River Head was around 20 miles, the actual route was just over 40 miles, as the route followed the 100 foot height contour to provide a smooth flow of water, resulting in only an 18 foot drop from source to end.

The New River Head location was chosen for a number of reasons. A location north of the city was needed to act as a holding location, from where multiple streams of water could then be distributed through pipes across the wider city.

The location sat on London Clay, rather than the free draining gravel found further south in Clerkenwell, and it was also a high point, with roughly a 31 meter drop down to the River Thames, thereby allowing gravity to transport water down towards consumers in the city.

The site already had a number of ponds, confirming the suitability of the land to hold water.

The following map from Stow’s Survey of London, dated around 1720, shows the location of New River Head, still in fields to the north of the city, with the New River feeding in from the right.

New River Head

The New River project was a success, however by the end of the 17th century, the New River Company was supplying water to a considerable part of London, and had reached the organisational and technological limits of the time.

Whilst there were no significant problems with transporting water from Hertfordshire to New River Head, the real problems were distributing water onward across the city, where a system of pipes had grown over the years without any integrated planning, and no real understanding of the implications of water pressure, pipe size, height profiles etc.

Users were starting to complain, water could be cut off for days, pressure was frequently low, and the number of consumers continued to grow rapidly, for example in the ten years between 1695 and 1705 an additional 600 new consumers had been added in the West End, an area of considerable growth for the New River Company.

The West End also had unique problems as it was higher than the City and the difference in height required different distribution methods, rather than just adding more pipes to an already overstretched network.

Sir Christopher Wren was asked to help with understanding the problems of distributing water to Soho Square in the West End, however Wren looked at the whole system and recommended that the problems could only be addressed by effectively replacing the entire system with a new, integrated design.

The New River Company also commissioned John Lowthorp (a clergyman, who was also a member of the Royal Society) to look at the distribution problems,

Lowthorpe established that it was not water supply problems to New River Head (indeed the New River supplied enough water for the whole of London), as with Wren, Lowthorpe identified the distribution network and the organisation of the company.

The New River Company undertook a significant reform of their operations over the course of the 18th century. An integrated approach to distributing water, placement of valves and cisterns, use of different pipe bores and careful surveys of the height profile of the distribution network, and the locations of consumers.

The New River Head location also expanded with additional holding ponds, and in 1709 a new reservoir called the New or Upper Pond was constructed, a short distance north from New River Head, where Claremont Square stands today towards Pentonville Road.

The following plan shows the New River Head in 1753. The original Inner pond, built for the 1613 opening of the New River, surrounded by later ponds, and to the upper left, the New Pond dating from 1709.

New River Head

Image credit: London Metropolitan Archives, City of London: catalogue ref: p5440560

The New Pond was higher than the main New River Head site, so a means of pumping water was required and initially a windmill was constructed at the New River Head site to pump water up to the New Pond, however this was an inefficient method. Water could not be pumped at times of insufficient wind and the windmill was also damaged during times of high wind. The windmill was soon replaced by horsepower, and then by steam pumps in a new pump and engine house.

The following print shows New River Head in 1752.

New River Head

The New Pond is at the bottom of the picture, the ponds at New River Head are just above and the windmill can be seen to the right of the New River Head ponds. This print also shows how the buildings of the city are gradually creeping towards New River Head, when compared to the map from 1720 – all new consumers for the New River Company.

This print from the 1740s shows New River Head and the windmill.

New River Head

The growing demand for water also meant that the capacity of the original Hertfordshire springs was insufficient. The New River Company had started to use the River Lea as an additional source of water and in the 17th century had constructed pipes to take water from the River Lea to the New River.

Bargeman and Mill owners along the River Lea were not happy with the impact of the New River on the volume of water and rate of flow along the River Lea, resulting in a number of disputes.

Parliament provided their approval to an agreement drawn up between the trustees of the River Lea Navigation and the New River Company in 1739, which allowed the New River Company to continue drawing water on payment of £350 per annum to the River Lea Navigation.

There is so much history to New River Head, however this post is already far too long, so a brief look at a couple of maps to show how the site then developed to the site we see today.

This 1913 revision of the Ordnance Survey map, shows New River Head, with the central round pond, and surrounding filter beds. The map also shows the level of development during the 19th century with the fields that surrounded the site in the 17th century, now covered with housing and streets.

New River Head

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

Fast forward to the 1952 revision, and we can see the large head office of the Metropolitan Water Board (discussed further down the post) dominates the site, and covers much of the original location of the round pond, with only parts of the northern edge remaining (which we can still see today).

New River Head

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

In the map, I have marked the location of the New River Head viewing point (see further down the post) by a blue circle, and the red circle outlines the base of the original windmill used to pump water to the Claremont Street reservoir.

The following photo from Britain from Above, dated 1952, shows the New River Head location. It is really only with an aerial view that you can appreciate the head office of the Metropolitan Water Board in the centre of the photo.

New River Head

Time for a walk around the site today, to see what is left of New River Head.

As part of the New River Path, developed to follow the route of the New River between Hertford and Islington, Thames Water created a viewing platform to look over the site of New River Head. To get to there, i walked up Rosebery Avenue, and just before the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, turned left into Arlington Way, then just before the Shakespeare’s Head pub, turned left into  Myddleton Passage.

New River Head

At the point where Myddleton Passage does a 90 degree bend up to Myddleton Square (both named after Hugh Myddleton), there are two metal gates, the one on the right provides access to the viewing platform.

New River Head

There are a number of information panels lining the fence providing some background to the New River and New River Head.

New River Head

The concept of having a viewing platform at the end of the New River Path, overlooking the place where water emptied out into the ponds and the infrastructure to distribute the water onward across London is brilliant, however I must admit I was somewhat disappointed by the limited view. Much of the original history of the site is either obscured by plant growth, or buildings, or is just too low to be visible.

The following panorama shows the view from the viewing platform, and I have marked some of the key features which are either visible, or hidden.

New River Head

Fortunately, taking a walk around the wider area reveals much more of New River Head and the New River Company, so here is a tour round the site starting with the magnificent Head Office of the Metropolitan Water Board constructed in 1919 / 1920. This is the view of the building as you walk up Rosebery Avenue from the south.

New River Head

It is hard to appreciate the full size, or shape of the building from ground level. The Britain from Above photo shown earlier in the post shows what a magnificent building this is when the full building can be appreciated.

There are multiple reminders of the original function of the building and New River Head, to be found all over the building:

New River Head

Walking further north along Rosebery Avenue, and this is the view looking back towards the Metropolitan Water Board head office. The full area on the right is part of the original New River Head.

New River Head

In the above photo, where the head office building ends along Rosebery Avenue, there are gates which provide a glimpse of the original round pond. The photo below shows part of the retaining wall of the round pond behind the far fence – later upgrades and restorations so not exactly the 1613 walls, but retaining the position of the original round pond.

New River Head

To the north of the site is the magnificent Grade II listed, 1938 Laboratory Building, designed by John Murray Easton and formerly the water testing centre for Thames Water.

New River Head

The Laboratory Building is now home to 35 apartments. On the rounded corner of the Laboratory Building is the seal of the New River Company:

New River Head

The seal depicts the hand of Providence bestowing rain upon the city. The motto “et plui super unam civitatem” translates as “and I rained upon one city”.

This is the turn off from Rosebery Avenue to get to Myddleton Passage:

New River Head

The view along Myddleton Passage. The passage can be seen along the northern boundary of New River Head in the maps above. The wall on the left is the boundary wall from 1806-7.

New River Head

In the 19th and early 20th centuries this passage, alongside the water works was a dark and isolated place at night, and a number of crimes were reported in the press of the day. For example from the London Daily News on the 26th March 1846 “Robbery from the person of Mr Thomas Woods, of Number 9 Wardrobe-place, Doctors Commons whilst passing through Myddleton-passage, Clerkenwell, a striped silk purse, containing twenty sovereigns and twenty shillings in silver”.

The presence of police officers in Myddleton Passage can be seen through “collar numbers” carved into a section of the boundary wall along Myddleton Passage.

New River Head

The Survey of London identifies a number of the officers who recorded their numbers along the wall. One being Frederick Albert Victor Moore, from Cornwall, who joined G Division of the Metropolitan Police in 1886. Prior to his transfer to London he had served at the Devonport Naval Dockyard, and in Myddleton Passage recorded not only his London number, but also his original 365 PLYMOUTH number, seen in the middle of the second from bottom course of bricks in the following photo:

New River Head

Fascinating to imagine Metropolitan Police Officers of the 19th century patrolling this lonely alley on a dark night, with the waters of New River Head just behind the wall.

Walk to the end of Myddleton Passage, stop off at the viewing platform then head north.

At the end of Myddleton Passage, we reach Myddleton Square, a large square with the church of St Marks, Clerkenwell in the centre. Both passage and square named after Hugh Myddleton.

New River Head

Along the northern terrace of Myddleton Square, there is a distinctive change in brick colouring:

New River Head

Not due to cleaning, rather bombing of the site and a rebuild of the terrace as recorded on a plaque adjacent to the black door in the centre of the above photo:

New River Head

The plaque records the New River Company rebuilt this section of Myddleton Square between 1947 and 1948, and it also gives a clue as to how the New River Company evolved.

The Metropolis Water Act of 1902 transferred the responsibility of the many local water companies serving London to the newly created Metropolitan Water Board. The New River Company ceased the role that it had been created for almost 300 year before.

As well as supplying water, the New River Company had long been a significant owner of land and properties, both along the route of the New River and the surroundings of New River Head. In 1904, the New River Company re-incorporated as a property company.

In 1974 the New River Company was taken over by London Merchant Securities, but still operated as a separate division.

Today, the New River Company is a subsidiary of the property company Derwent London plc (I am constantly fascinated by how you can still find evidence of centuries old institutions across London).

A turning off Myddleton Square is Chadwell Street – after one of the original Hertfordshire springs.

New River Head

Leading north from Myddleton Square is Mylne Street.

Mylne Street is named after Robert Mylne (1733 to 1811), who became the New River Company’s second chief surveyor in 1771. Mylne had already worked on Blackfriars Bridge (completed in 1760), he was surveyor of St Paul’s Cathedral and worked on numerous canal and architectural construction and engineering projects.

I have a load of 1980s photos that we took around Clerkenwell and Islington, and one of the reasons for my visit to the area was to photograph the same locations today. The following is a photo from 1984 showing one of the first buildings in Mylne Street from Myddleton Square.

New River Head

It is a lovely building, with ornate ironwork fronting the street, but what was of interest is the street name carved between the ground and first floors. Also, from the perspective of 2019, the parking meter that was once so common across London streets.

The same building in November 2019:

New River Head

At the northern end of Mylne Street we reach Claremont Square. This was the location of the New, or Upper Pond. In a wonderful example of continuity of use, over 300 years later, the centre of the square is still occupied by a large, covered reservoir, with grassed, earth banks surrounding the centre of the square.

New River Head

Lining three sides of the square are early 19th century terrace houses. Pentonville Road lines the northern edge of the square.

New River Head

Steps leading up from Claremont Square to the top of the reservoir:

New River Head

The original reservoir was uncovered, however as the reservoir contained filtered water ready for distribution to consumers, the Metropolis Water Act of 1852 required such reservoirs to be covered to prevent any form of contamination entering the water from the wider environment.

In the 1850s, the reservoir was drained, brick piers built, covered and turfed over. The reservoir was also raised in height to give a total depth of water of 21 feet, and the capability to hold 3.5 million gallons.

Four million bricks were used in the reconstruction and covering the reservoir, and the following print showing work taking place, and the internal construction provides a good view of how the reservoir was built and covered.

New River Head

Whilst New River Head could provide water for large parts of London in the 17th and 18th centuries, new sources and reservoirs were being developed, including reservoirs in Stoke Newington, where the New River now terminates and feeds the east and west reservoirs just south of Seven Sisters Road.

The Claremont Square reservoir was already integrated into a wider water distribution network in the 19th century, as in the 19th century, large pipes had been installed between the reservoirs in Stoke Newington and Claremont Square, so the reservoir could be stocked with water from both New River Head and Stoke Newington.

Today, the reservoir is fed with water from the London Ring Main, and the reservoir was Grade II listed in the year 2000..

The western edge of Claremont Square is at the top of Amwell Street (named after one of the original Hertfordshire springs), so I turned into Amwell Street and headed south.

Passing the junction with River Street (after the New River) and Lloyd Baker Street (see my earlier post on the Lloyd Baker Estate), I reached the point where you can peer through railings surrounding the New River Head site, and see the base of the windmill that was built to pump water from New River Head to the Claremont Square Reservoir in 1709:

New River Head

The plaque above the door reads:

“The round house, remains of the windmill used C. 1709 -1720 to pump water from the round pond to the upper pond (now Claremont Square reservoir)”.

Locks on the entrance gate between Amwell Street and the New River Head site – they really do not want you to get in:

New River Head

Which is understandable, as New River Head is still a key location in the distribution of water across London.

In another fascinating example of how locations across London maintain a continuity of use across centuries, the information panel at the viewing point shows where a deep shaft at the New River Head site connects to the London Ring Main, a core part of the infrastructure that now distributes water across London.

Pumps raise water from the ring main for distribution via the Claremont Square reservoir.

New River Head

As well as the London Ring Main interconnect, the New River Head site also hosts a bore hole used to extract ground water.

For centuries, water intensive industries such as breweries, tanneries etc. drained London’s ground water, resulting in an ever dropping level of ground water.

With the decline of these industries, ground water has been gradually rising. Whilst a good thing to return to natural levels, rising groundwater does create problems for the infrastructure now buried deep under London. For example, TFL has to pump 47 million litres of water a day from across the network, with 35 litres per second needing to be pumped from just Victoria Station.

The bore hole at New River Head is to the left of the old windmill base, but appears to be out of operation at the moment as stabilisation works are required, however when back in operation, the New River Head bore hole can extract between 3 and 3.46 million litres per day from London’s rising ground water.

Again, I have only scratched the surface of the history of the area and New River Head. Within the Round Pond, there is the Devil’s Conduit, a chimney conduit originally from Queen’s Square, Bloomsbury and moved to New River Head in 1927. The original 17th century oak room from the Water House building, built next to the Round Pond, and dating from around 1693, is now in the Metropolitan Water Board head office building (open during Open House, London).

Thames Water (the successor to the Metropolitan Water Board) have long left the New River Head offices, and are now based in Reading. The old head office building has been converted into flats.

To research this post, as well as walking the area I have used a number of excellent books, including:

  • The New River by Mary Cosh
  • The Survey of London, Volume 47 on Northern Clerkenwell and Pentonville
  • The History of the London Water Industry 1580 to 1820 by Leslie Tomory
  • Online reports from Thames Water and TFL
  • Online reports by the General Aquifer Research Development and Investigation Team

The book by Leslie Tomory is a fascinating read if you want to understand how the water industry developed across London from very simple beginnings, to an industry that could serve an industrialising and rapidly expanding city.

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